Staying Motivated


Now that we’re past Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas, I am amazed at how hard it is to get back into practicing.   I have found that I need to be working on a couple of things simultaneously to get motivated to practice – especially when I want to do other things like put up decorations, shop, etc.


For example, right now I’m learning a new showcase routine – one that has been designed to focus on technique that I want to improve.   So I need to both learn the figures (steps) and to execute them effectively, I need to improve my technique.

So when I’m bored with the technique, I can bounce back to simply learning the flow of the figures.


Fortunately my dance coach is also a master at breaking down the technique into micro-chunks so that I can isolate which parts of my body to use to initiate and flow through a specific movement.   Thus he provides great exercises designed to both ensure that my technique becomes consistent, but also eliminates bad habits.


The best part of these exercises – I can do them at home — when I am in hermit mode and don’t want to go to the studio or when I need to squeeze in a few minutes of practice between conference calls or other work related tasks.


And thanks to this post, I hear the next practice session calling, calling, calling…


The Power of Videos


I generally prefer not having my picture taken and that goes double for videos.   That being said, videos have become one of my best friends in my dance journey.


Early on in both our couple and my individual dance lessons, I tried taking notes – especially regarding foot placement with some of the figures.   We would get home and try to practice and the notes didn’t make enough sense to help us. As the figures have become more complicated, the note taking became too onerous to even try.


Back in the day, since phone technology wasn’t spectacular, we bought a video camera to help us – and it did.   Although we probably weren’t as consistent in recording as we should have been – the little clips did help enough to get through some practice sessions at home.


Of course, now that smart phones have improved so much, videoing just about anything is easier. I am also very fortunate to have had instructors willing to demonstrate figures for me, or get someone to video us doing the figure together.   Just having those clips at home has greatly enhanced my practice time.   I am amazed at how often I go back to the clips – even some of the older ones to refresh on a figure I may have forgotten.


Since our studio also brings in external coaches from time to time, videoing a new figure or a new way of shaping or arm styling as demonstrated by the coach has been a gold mine for improving my dance.  Repetitive viewing is critical to grasp all the nuances.   The first few viewings are to get the footwork right, then I can move on to enhanced shaping or arm styling.


As I add new dances for competitions (I’ve moved into international standard), and my American smooth silver routines have become more complicated (requiring more expression and shaping), we’ve also begun to video the entire “routines” for me to use for solo practice sessions focused on technique and footwork. My private lessons then become opportunities for partnering and refining – rather than re-hashing the content of a particular figure.


And after several years of avoidance – think never watching videos of my dancing (I really hate seeing myself on camera, etc.), I am gradually becoming reconciled to watching my performances. Must admit, I am picking up on both mistakes and progress. It is a bit of a kick when I actually see myself doing something well. Who knows, I might even come to enjoy it.

Group lessons…or not


The dance journey is always a gold mine, when we take the time to reflect, for revealing new and old truths about oneself.


A little bit of context – recently during some group classes, I found myself struggling emotionally and tensing up during the classes.   What should have been a fun and inexpensive learning experiences with friends had become a personal emotional challenge.   I would often walk out of such classes either frustrated or angry – and questioning if I wanted to continue doing group lessons.


Where were those feelings coming from? I like all my fellow dancers, but was I jealous of their success? Did I somehow think my competence as a dancer was being called into question? I love my instructor, so why am I so frustrated with him in group lessons?


And after several entries in my journal, I began to uncover what was underneath the emotional roller coaster.   The good news – I am not jealous – I am actually thrilled when a friend masters a figure or new technique. Group lessons can be an opportunity for additional bonding and deepening friendships with fellow dancers.


On the other hand, I have also discovered that some of the teaching techniques in group lessons don’t necessarily lend themselves to how I best learn.   For example, in a group lesson, we can theoretically learn from watching each other – especially when someone has mastered a technique, etc. This learning from watching others is also why so many folks gravitate to videos.


The downside, though, is we don’t all master movements at the same pace or in the same way.   So watching another dance student in a live class (as opposed to watching a professional on a video) can potentially lead to comparisons with oneself that actually erodes, rather than enhances, self-confidence.


Upon reflection, I was reminded that I learn best by doing first – having the technique or movement presented in micro chunks that I can feel in my body and use my body to experience.   Watching others without having had the personal physical experience isn’t generally helpful as I can’t always identify what they are doing differently to master the figure or technique. So to honor my own learning process while participating in group lessons, I have started to ask for what I need.


Finally, the “duh” factor – communication is key in getting past tensions or blocks in a group lesson – sharing feelings of frustration between instructor and student can open one up to acknowledging our vulnerability and humanness – and increase connection as well as self-confidence.


So, am I still going to group lessons?   You bet – not only are they great learning experiences on multiple levels, they are really fun experiences with great friends.